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12 Species of Hawks to Spot in Arizona (Pictures)

 Updated by Melanie Cruff on 02-09-2024

Arizona’s skies are graced by the majestic presence of at least 12 different hawk species, each contributing to the state’s rich biodiversity and serving as a vital component of its ecosystems. Arizona is a state with an incredibly diverse array of habitats, including grasslands, deserts, chapparal, woodland and even the Sky Island mountain ranges. It’s these diverse landscapes that bring such a wide variety of hawk species to the Grand Canyon State. 

When it comes to hawks in Arizona there are 12 different species that you may encounter, aside from the rare vagrant.  Those 12 species are the Red-tailed Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, American Goshawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Common Black Hawk, Harris’s Hawk, Gray Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, and the Ferruginous Hawk.

Wanna know a little bit about where you can see them in Arizona and what they look like? Read on!

A quick note about this article; we refer to both accipiters and buteos as ‘hawks’ in alignment with North American terminology. This usage reflects regional naming conventions and is not intended to overlook the taxonomic distinctions among these groups of birds of prey.

1. Red-tailed Hawk

red-shouldered hawk in flight from below
Red-tailed Hawk in Flight | image by Don Owens via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
Length:17.7-25.6 in
Weight: 24.3-51.5 oz
Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in

The Red-tailed Hawk is a large hawk and the most common one in all of North America. They have a year-round range in the entire state of Arizona and can commonly be seen soaring overhead or perched high in trees. They feed mostly on small to medium-sized mammals so they aren’t seen in backyards stalking bird feeders as often as a Sharp-shinned or Copper’s Hawk is.

red tailed hawk adult flying

The Red-tailed Hawk has a remarkable variation in plumage across its range, which spans much of North America. This variability is not just across different geographic areas but can also occur within local populations. The typical adult Red-tailed Hawk is characterized by its rich brown back and pale underside, with a streaked belly and a distinctive reddish tail that gives the species its name.

However, color morphs range from dark to light, including the dark “chocolate” morph, the rufous “western” morph, and the nearly all-white “Krider’s” morph. Juveniles also differ in appearance from adults and lack the red tail, usually displaying a brown and white banded tail instead. These diverse plumage patterns help Red-tailed Hawks blend into their respective environments, from desert landscapes to forested regions, providing camouflage that is advantageous for hunting and survival.

2. Sharp-shinned Hawk

sharp shinned hawk perched snowy day
sharp-shinned hawk

Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
Length: 9.4-13.4 in
Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz
Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in

The Sharp-shinned Hawk has a non-breeding population in most of the state of Arizona, meaning they are winter visitors. However, portions of central Arizona near Flagstaff, Tonto National Forest, and Coconino National Forest do have populations that remain year-around.

Sharp-shinned Hawks, aka “Sharpies”, are notorious for stalking backyards and bird feeders as songbirds make up about 90% of their diet. If you see one in your yard be sure to take down your feeders for a few days and allow the hawk to move on before putting them back up.

sharp shinned hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk (juvenile) | image by NPS Photo/ Tim Rains via Flickr

They are small to medium sized raptor that look very similar to the Cooper’s Hawk, but smaller. Adults have a dark head, nape and back, with a banded tail. Their lower face and breast is white with heavy orange barring. Note their small, rounded head, large red eye and long tail. Juveniles have a brown back with brown streaking down the chest.

3. Cooper’s Hawk

Coopers hawk adult perching
Adult Coopers Hawk

Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii
Length: 14.6-17.7 in
Weight: 7.8-24.0 oz
Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in

Copper’s Hawks can be found all year throughout most of Arizona. Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks look extremely similar and the size difference is the main indicator between the two species. Like the Sharpie, the Cooper’s Hawk loves to prey on other birds (especially doves) and can also be a nuisance in backyards. 

Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk

The adult Cooper’s hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey with a slate-gray back, dark cap, and reddish bars on the breast. It has a long tail with dark bands and amber eyes. The juvenile Cooper’s hawk has a brown back, and brown streaks on the breast. 

Cooper’s Hawks maybe fairly familiar sites in urban areas, and are comfortable nesting in large trees in golf courses, parks and even cemeteries. With Arizona’s warm weather, they begin to nest in February. 

4. Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-winged hawk (Image: Andrew Cannizzaro | CC BY 2.0 | wikicommons)

Scientific name: Buteo platypterus
Length: 13.4-17.3 in
Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz
Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 in

I almost left this species off of the list of hawks in Arizona because technically they are eastern birds and Arizona is not in their normal range. However, some have been known to have a small migration range just west of the Grand Canyon. According to the Arizona Bird Committee, “The most reliable time and place to find a Broad-winged Hawk in Arizona is at the Grand Canyon Hawk Watch International watch sites at Lipan and Yaki points in September.” You may also rarely catch them wandering in other parts of the state during the spring and fall migration period.

broad winged hawk flight
Broad-winged Hawk | image by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Broad-winged Hawks leave South America by the hundreds of thousands in the fall to start their migration to their breeding grounds in North America. Once they arrive they are found in the eastern part of the U.S. and throughout much of Canada, but not the western parts of the United States. 

The Broad-winged hawk is a small to medium-sized bird of prey with broad, rounded wings and a relatively short, banded tail. It has a dark brown back and wings, with a rufous-barred underbelly. From below, you can see a dark outline around the wings.

5. American Goshawk

northern goshawk landing

Scientific name: Accipiter atricapillus
Length: 20.9-25.2 in
Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in

The American Goshawk is the larger relative to the Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks. This raptor got its name from the Old English word for “goose hawk,” which refers to the fact that it preys on other birds. Larger birds like ducks, grouse, woodpeckers, jays and crows are all on the menu. However they also eat mammals including squirrels, hares, jackrabbits and cottontails.

They can be identified by their mostly gray color. Their back is a dark gray while their underparts are white with delicate gray barring. They have a dark cap, white ‘eyebrow’ stripe and amber colored eyes. Juveniles look quite different, with a mottled brown back and underparts covered in thick brown streaks. 

Northern Goshawk (Image: Jevgenijs Slihto | CC BY 2.0 | flickr)

These Goshawks can be seen in many parts of Arizona, but tend to live year-round in higher elevation forests in the northern parts of the state like the Kaibab Plateau and in the San Francisco Peaks region. They are also residents on Black Mesa and in the Chuska Mountains, the Mogollon Rim, and in the sky islands of southeast.

6. Rough-legged Hawk

rough legged hawk
Rough-legged Hawk (light morph) | image by Tom Koerner/USFWS via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Buteo lagopus
Length: 18.5-20.5 in
Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz 
Wingspan: 52.0-54.3 in

The Rough-legged Hawk has a non-breeding population throughout all of Arizona, except for the southernmost regions of the state along the border where they are more rare. The best time to see one anywhere in the U.S. is the in the winter, since they migrate far north to the arctic regions of Alaska and northern Canada each year to breed. Look for them perched along the edge of open fields where they like to hunt for small mammals and birds.

They can easily be identified by their feathered legs that go all the way down to their toes. The only other species of hawk with this trait in North America the Ferruginous Hawk. Rough-legged hawks come in two color morphs, dark and light. 

two rough legged hawks
Two color-morphs of the Rough Legged Hawk | image by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The plumage of males and females look quite different in both morphs. Light morphs are overall lighter colored with a somewhat mottled pattern, and dark morphs are a dark chocolate brown color with two-toned light/dark under their wings and tails.

7. Common Black Hawk

photo by: Fernando Flores | CC 2.0

Scientific name: Buteogallus anthracinus
Length: 17 to 24 inches 
Weight: 1.7 to 2.4 pounds 
Wingspan: 46 to 50 inches 

While these hawks are found primarily along the coast in Mexico, Central America and the northern tip of South America, you can find some in the United States. Arizona is the only state where they come to breed, from the middle of the state in the Coconino National Forest down to the southeast corner.

They particularly like to hunt near rivers, so look for them perching low in trees above the water waiting for fish, crabs, reptiles and amphibians. In shallow, slower moving water they sometimes wade in and flutter their wings to startle fish, then heard the fish towards the shore where they are easier to catch.

common black hawk
Common Black Hawk | image by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Adults are dark all over with a yellow beak, white band in their tail and a thin layer of white along the tail edge. Juveniles are heavily mottled all over with dark feathers on a white or cream base. 


8. Harris’s Hawk

Scientific name: Parabuteo unicinctus
Length: 18.1-23.2 in
Weight: 18.2-31.0 oz
Wingspan: 40.5-46.9 in

The Harris’s Hawk is a year-round resident to areas of southern central Arizona around the cities of Phoenix and Tucson. They favor semi open desert with mesquite, saguaro and organ pipe cactus, but also include areas of wetlands and savannah. Harris’s hawks like to keep an eye on the landscape, so you’ll often see them perching high up. 

Harris’s Hawk has dark brown plumage all over, with chestnut patches on the shoulders and legs. They have a white rump, and a white tip on their fairly long tail. Their legs, feet and beak are yellow. Immatures look similar but with a white and brown mottled chest.

Harris’s Hawk Parabuteo unicinctus in Sonoran Desert
Harris’s Hawk on Saguaro Cactus

They are known for being the most social hawks in North America, working together in cooperative groups for breeding and hunting. A group can contain as many as seven hawks, which may or may not be related. They can exhibit sophisticated hunting strategies, and feed based on a social pecking-order within the group.

9. Gray Hawk

Scientific name: Buteo plagiatus
Length: 15-24 in
Weight: 13.8-16.8 oz
Wingspan: 25-35 in

Gray Hawks have a very limited range in the U.S. and can only be found in the southeastern corner of Arizona from Tuscon to the border. Most of these tropical hawks live along the Mexican coast and across Central America. In Arizona, look for them in willow and cottonwood stands along rivers. Cottonwood especially seems to be the tree the choose most often to nest in. They can be hard to miss when perched, but are easier to pick out when they soar in the late morning heat. 

Gray Hawks have a much more specialized diet than the other hawks on this list, sticking predominantly to lizards. The Whiptail lizard is their most common prey in Arizona. Snakes and toads may make it to the menu as well, and even some birds, cottontails, mice, beetles and grasshoppers.

gray hawk
Gray Hawk | image by Bettina Arrigoni via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

These medium sized hawks are light to medium gray on their head and back, with light underparts barred with fine gray lines. Their has alternating black and white bands.

10. Swainson’s Hawk

Scientific name: Buteo swainsoni
Length: 18.9-22.1 in
Weight: 24.4-48.2 oz
Wingspan: 48 in

Swainson’s Hawks can be found throughout the state of Arizona during the spring and summer months. They have one of the longest migration routes of any American raptor, traveling all the way from southern South America to spread across western North America’s open country to breed.

Look for them perched out in the open on utility poles along the road scanning the ground for prey. Even though much of prairie and grassland habitat they historically have hunted on has been turned into agricultural fields, they have adapted. You may see them perching on fence posts or irrigation sprinklers while hunting the fields for mice, voles, rabbits and squirrels. They also eat lizards, snakes and even bats. 

swainsons hawk flying
Swainson’s Hawk | image by NPS / Jacob W. Frank via Flickr

Swainson’s Harks are large birds with long wings that appear pointed at the end. they have dark flight feathers that give their wings a dark edge when viewed from below. Their head and upper breast are brown, which their belly and throat are white, giving them a hooded appearance.

11. Zone-tailed Hawk

Scientific name: Buteo albonotatus
Length: 17.7-22.1 in
Weight: 21.4-33 oz
Wingspan: 46.9-55.1 in

The Zone-tailed Hawk’s northern most limits of its range extend from the southeastern corner of Arizona into the center of the state. They migrate north from Central and South America each year to breed in portions of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, so spring and summer are the best times to see one.

Zone-tailed Hawks hunt in desert scrub and grassland, and nest along rivers with cottonwood stands. But they also like canyons and rocky cliffs, hunting in pine forests up to 7,600 feet. In flight, they can look similar to Turkey Vultures by holding their wings arched and tipping. These two species do sometimes soar and roost together. Using this to their advantage, they sometimes imitate the harmless Turkey Vulture to fool their prey.

zone tailed hawk
Zone-tailed hawk | image by Alan Schmierer via Flickr

These medium sized hawks have an all-dark body. When viewed from below the underside of their wings is light with barring and a dark trailing edge. Note the white band on their tail, which can help distinguish them from Turkey Vultures if soaring overhead.

12. Ferruginous Hawk

Scientific name: Buteo regalis
Length: 22.1-27.2 in
Weight: 34.5-73.2 oz
Wingspan: 52.4-55.9 in

The Ferruginous Hawk is a year-round resident in the northern half of Arizona and a winter migrant in the southern half of the state. Along with the Rough-legged Hawk they are the only other species to have feathers all the way down to their toes. They are the largest of all North American hawks, even larger than the Red-tailed Hawk.

The term “ferruginous” means rust-colored. So these hawks got their name from the rusty feathers found on their back and legs. They have a white belly with bluish-gray on their head and wings. There is also a less common dark-morph that has a dark body and dark inner wings.

ferruginous hawk flying
Ferruginous Hawk Flying (light-morph)

These impressive hawks prefer a diet of rabbits, ground squirrels, gophers and prairie dogs. They use several methods for hunting, including searching from a perch or when soaring, and even running on the ground after their prey.

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